Protoplay 2012 – Day 2

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Previously on Protoplay…

Having never missed a Protoplay since its inception, PP:2012 will be my 6th, and I’m fortunate enough to have seen it from pretty much every angle available, staff helper, contestant (and winner!), and plain old attendee. This year I get to see it with a reporter’s eyes, thanks to ScottishGames (I promise to return the eyes unharmed).

I can confirm that this year’s Dare is bigger than ever and the teams have absolutely stepped up to the challenge. Every year the phrase “This year, the games have gotten EVEN BETTER!” is thrown about, which as a participant in 2009 I was certain was true, and every year since I have denied was possible… not this year. ‘Better’ is of course, pretty subjective, but ‘impressive’ is undeniable. The games are pushing the technical boundaries of what is possible in 9 weeks, and the difference between ‘best’ and ‘worst’ games is now so small that picking a winner (or three) will be incredibly hard for the judges.

So without further hyperbole…

The Games

Getting to play all 15 games was difficult, because of the number of attendees clamouring for some action, notably Raptor Games’ “Project Thanatos” had a queue leading out of their 16+ rated VR horror experience all day long.

I played what I could get my hands on, and started to get sucked into the event, but realising I had my journalist hat on (sadly just a metaphorical hat) I decided to interview the developers about their experiences of Dare and the Protoplay showcase.

ImageThis year’s heroes, I moustache you a question…

SG: How was the 9 weeks of development time?

Bradley Austin (Code – Badgers vs. Turtles)

Lots of fun, probably the only competition where your competitors will help you out, that’s really motivating.

Paul Barton (Code – Castle Crusade)

Stressful but good, surprisingly few arguments considering the team didn’t know each other before the competition, we got together through the Dare forums and its worked out pretty well.

Mus Cetiner (Artist – Ready, Steady, Roll!)

$&*£%# hard! Pretty stressful at times, Protoplay has wiped that away though.

Kimi Sulopuisto (Team Lead – Starcrossed)

Busy! It’s been a cool working environment, and I liked Dundee, it reminds me a little of my hometown in Finland.

Albert Vaca (Code – Isochronous)

Hard work. We worked all hours most of the way through because it’s quite normal in Spain, but we didn’t have many big problems. We did quite rapid iteration at the start because we weren’t sure if the game would be fun, this   helped develop some new features to develop.

SG: You had your original idea, and today you’re presenting game, but how similar are those two things?

Dave “Headbanger” Taylor (Art/Design – Interstate Outlaws)

We’re pretty much showing what we intended to, the mentor’s advice during development was really good, that helped us focus on what was important.

Ronan Quigley (Audio – Mr. Montgomery’s Debonair Facial Hair)

The game itself is very much the game we set out to make, we removed some of the more ambitious ideas and kept it casual. The people playing seem to be enjoying it though, most people play all the levels through which is cool.

Jason Stewart (Team Lead – Liminal Magibrawl)

Its very similar to the original idea, a little simpler than it was to make sure it could be played by anyone, we had a combo system that was pretty cool but it was also quite involved. The environment changed 5 or 6 times too, but this is the game we wanted.

Albert Elwin (Code – Grav Tech)

Well originally the game was going to be on the Vita, and we scaled the idea down for that, but then we had trouble with the Vita and switched to Unity after the first week, the game is pretty much the same since that initial scaling.

Hugh Laird (Team Lead – Raptor Games)

Not at all similar in content, we pitched for a 45 minute experience set on an island, we have a 5 minute experience set in a laboratory. We changed that at the start, and stripped down more during development, the premise of the game is the same though, horror and Virtual Reality.

SG: What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Steven Daord (Artist – Badgers vs. Turtles)

Not adding more features when you think of them. Its really easy to get excited about a cool idea that comes up during development, but theres no time so you have to stop yourself… Although we did get to add one or two of  them.

Chris Rowan (Audio – Castle Crusade)

Cutting features. We did have a build mode in alongside the battle mode but there was no way we would have been able to get them both working well enough for Protoplay so it had to go.

Adam Ellis (Team Lead – Slick)

Changing the controls. The game was going to be more puzzle-platformer than a speedrun game, but advice from the mentors showed us we had to switch our focus, dealing with those decisions was hard, but its turned out well.

Jesse Hurtado (Audio/Design – Colour Captain)

Learning the differences between cultural expectations on design. We realised that that there were decisions that were right for the game in terms of a Chinese audience but just wouldn’t work here at Protoplay.

Samir Pookhan (Art – What A Day!)

Adapting my art style, I tend to do more photorealistic work, so this was a change for me. Doing work and it not ending up in game was also frustrating, but that’s just something that happens with games.

Albert Vaca (Code – Isochronous)

Our game involves time travel, so working out some of the gameplay around that was quite hard.

SG: What was the most important thing you’ve learned from your Dare Experience?

Lior Rozenspitz (Team Lead – Marcelo)

I think for us just being here is important, the level of work is so high from other teams and we are helping each other out, it’s more like an accellerator program than a competition.

Ken “Big Chief” Mackinnon (Code – Interstate Outlaws)

We learned lots about Kinect development, the SDK is pretty easy to use so we were able to try out a few things.

Alastair Brown (Team Lead – Badgers vs. Turtles)

Teamwork, being prepared for anything. Our tutorial started crashing the game a few days before Protoplay, for no obvious reason, that was pretty stressful.

Sam Bigos (Code – Castle Crusade)

Working with UDK was really good, I learned a lot from that and it makes development so much quicker, UnrealScript was really straightforward to use.

SG: What are your hopes for the future?

Luke Harrison (Animator – Pixel Story)

Winning Dare?! There’s a Channel 4 competition for starting a company too, that would be cool.

Steven Daord (Artist – Badgers vs. Turtles)

We’re planning on releasing our game for free on the app store this year as a portfolio piece. Besides that I think it depends on what happens this weekend.

Kimi Sulopuisto (Team Lead – Starcrossed)

We will be releasing our game this year, and the whole team has new projects lined up.

Lior Rozenspitz (Team Lead – Marcelo)

We made it here as the first team from Israel without financial support, Israel has good technology and media support, but not so much for games, I hope our team being here can help open the door for others like us in the future.

The Event

Just as I was finishing up with the teams I spied Jane Graham – Project Coordinator for Dare not being super busy, and asked her to tell me how the event had shaped up behind the scenes…

SG: How is this years Dare/Protoplay experience different from the last 5 years?

JG: We try to expand and improve Protoplay every year, this year we’ve expanded outside of the Caird Hall because we’ve added the Dare Indie-Fest to open the event up to small companies to allow them to show off what is up and coming. Its also the first year we’ve had good weather for it! The sun is shining brightly!

SG: I’ve just been speaking to the teams, this year seems to have a diverse range of entrants

JG: We have our regular international teams from Ireland, China, India, and Scandinavia who are sponsored by the Scottish Government, but this year we also have teams from Israel and Spain, who have managed to get here without sponsorship which is very impressive. The UK has entrants from Scotland and England this year, but none from Wales or Northern Ireland, the balance changes every year and the quality of the teams improve.

SG: Has there been a good public response to Protoplay so far?

JG: Absolutely, last year we got around 10,000 visitors, which went far beyond out expectations, I had to make wristbands from paper and tape to keep up with demand! We’re on track to match that number this year, and this time we’re prepared. We had 3000 yesterday and we’ve been very busy today too.

(while discussing this Jane gets a radio call from the front desk saying they are running out of wristbands)

JG: Well there you go! We had 4000 wristbands prepped for today, so this could break our attendance record again! I’ll have to go and sort out more now, sorry!

As Jane dashed off the afternoon was drawing to a close and as I was thinking about putting away my notepad until I saw someone sporting a shiny ‘judge’ badge! It was none other than industry veteran and judge Danny Parker (Digital Goldfish) to see what he had to say on the matter.

SG: How has this year’s Protoplay measured up to previous ones?

(a wry smile appears within Danny’s beard)

DP: Obviously, this year’s games have gotten EVEN BETTER! No really, they have! I think one of the best things about this year’s Dare is the range of game types the teams have produced, there’s puzzle games, platformers, racing games, fighting games, even a virtual reality horror game… there’s something for everyone this year, from casual to hardcore gamers, and every one of them is worth playing.”

SG: What would you like to see next year?

DP: “Actually, next year I’d like to see this year’s titles available to buy. I want to be on the app store and buy Pixel Story.”

SG: Is that a tip for a winner?!

DP: “Its a personal favourite, its the kind of game I really enjoy.”

SG: So its not a tip for a winner?

DP: “I couldn’t possibly comment”

It was almost the end of the day and Danny left to pass judgement on a new team of sweaty hopefuls and I wondered what to do next… I decided it would be best spent playing one more round of Isochronous…

Congratulations to all the teams who made it through, and trust me, being in the competition is more important than winning the competition.

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